Sunday, June 13, 2010

The Greening of the Metropolis

On my flights back from the ALIO-INFORMS in Buenos Aires, Argentina I had the distinct pleasure of reading the latest issue of Bloomberg Businessweek. There was a special segment in it on Clean Energy and an excellent article, "The Greening of the Metropolis." With cities being home to more than half of the world's population and generating more than two thirds of the world's carbon dioxide, greening of our megacities can make a significant difference in improving the environment.

I am hopeful. With the leadership of some of the biggest cities in the world taking proactive, creative steps to reduce emissions, much can be accomplished especially since regions and nations are failing to act.

Kudos to Los Angeles and its mayor, Antonio Villaraigosa, for 1,700 miles of bike paths that are to be completed by 2015, complete with showers and bicycle storage areas.

Bravo to the mayor of Toronto, David Miller, who plans on investing over $1 billion in public transport and environmentally-friendly air-conditioning systems for buildings.

In Tokyo, where, amazingly, 68 percent of the trips are by bike, subway, or on foot, in April a cap and trade system was instituted for carbon dioxide that is city-wide. As for Houston, Texas, where an astonishing 95% of the trips are made by car, at least officials are getting electric cars to reduce emissions.

Robert Doyle, the Lord Mayor of one of my favorite cities, Melbourne, in Australia, plans to bar cars from downtown and to offer incentives for green investments.

Copenhagen, in Denmark, is spending over a billion and a half dollars on bike paths, green energy projects, and retrofitting city buildings.

Amsterdam's infrastructure is being improved to the tune of 1 billion dollars, with its 2,400 houseboats being retrofitted to use electricity instead of diesel.

New York City, one of my absolutely favorite cities, since I grew up in Yonkers, is moving forward with its PlaNYC, to make buildings more energy efficient, power plants more environmentally-friendly, and with tax breaks for the use of solar panels.

Having spent over a week recently in another megacity -- Buenos Aires, Argentina, with about 11 million people in the central and surrounding areas, I know that much needs to be done.

The architecture of this city is stunning as are the neighborhoods with unique identities, and the lively, warm people and culture.

However, the traffic is horrendous with the busses running frequently but on diesel and their evident fumes spewing and belching out. Not only do they emit toxic pollutants but the noise that they generate is substantial. As one former Argentine physics colleague of my husband's, dating back to our Brown University days, told us during a lovely 3 hour dinner in Buenos Aires: when the busses go on strike, the people notice how much cleaner the air gets and how much more peaceful the city is even with more cars! Ironically, in parts of the developing world, getting rid of public transit with aging engines may actually improve air quality.

A better approach (and our colleague told us that he expects that this may happen but it will take about 10 years), is for the city of Buenos Aires (where 1/3 of Argentina's population lives) to purchase busses with the latest green technologies and with quieter designs.

Above are photos taken from the 14th floor of the Etoile Hotel in Buenos Aires where we spent last week. In the photos one can see the famous La Recoleta Cemetery where Eva Peron is buried and the Law School with the big columns, where the operations research conference that I attended and spoke at took place.

My talk at the ALIO-INFORMS conference was on "Sustainable Supply Chain Network Design: A Multicriteria Perspective" and it certainly hit "close to home." The paper is available here and the pdf of the presentation is here.